LETTER FROM PARIS: A philosophical dilemma at fingertips

14 Oct 2018


Prof Michel Onfray
Prof Michel Onfray

Michel Onfray is an unusual character in every sense of the word. He taught philosophy in a high school for twenty years until 2002 when, revolted by the way all thinking is expected to conform to established ideology in today’s world, he resigned the post and opened his own People’s University in the city of Caen in northern France.

This institution is free for students; but at the same time, in order to remain independent, Onfray refuses to accept financing by the ministry of education or any other government organisation. All the expenses of People’s University are met by the revenues earned through the sale of his own books and essays not only on philosophy but on politics as well, not to speak of his poetry eagerly published by many literary magazines. Today only at age 59, he is the author of more than a hundred such works that were all sold successfully.

Prof. Onfray is currently at the centre of a huge nation-wide wrangle that involves President Emma­nuel Macron who had proclaimed at the beginning of his term that he would not just be a simple leader but will be a modern day Jupiter, referring to the Roman mythological god who ruled over the earth, the sky and over all the other gods.

Taking part in a TV discussion last Sunday Prof. Michel Onfray referred to the jupiterianism of Macron and read out his own letter to the President that he had posted two days earlier.

President Macron during his recent visit to Antilles Islands
President Macron during his recent visit to Antilles Islands

“Your Highness, your Excellency, your Serenity, my dear Manu, my King but also my Dearest”, begins the letter, “… I am allowing myself this familiarity because of a photograph that was circulated following your trip to the Antilles Islands earlier this month. The picture shows you with your arm around the waist of a homosexual who is in company of his mate.”

As a matter of fact, supposedly for politically correct reasons, no one in the media had dared to make any comments on the picture in which Macron appears very happy cuddling the half naked body of the young man while the couple is making crudely uncouth signs at the camera with their fingers.

In the rest of the letter Onfray makes fun of the President’s failure to get ahead with his election promises, his pretention of being Jupiter and his oft repeated claim to follow the example of General Charles de Gaulle. “Can you imagine Gen de Gaulle getting himself photographed with his arms around a man?”, asks Prof. Onfray.

In his letter Onfray does not hesitate from hinting at the possibility of President Macron himself being a hidden homosexual. When questioned by the media, he replied: “This is my way of doing a satire. Who says a philosophy professor does not have the right to put things in an ironic and sarcastic way, if he so desires?”

Frightened by the rising controversy, a number of TV networks have withdrawn their invitations to Onfray to take part in live discussions. There are other chastisements too, coming to light day by day. France Culture, a public service radio network, stopped a programme in which Prof Onfray’s lectures at his university were broadcast in their entirety. He says the order clearly came from the Elysée Palace. “Of course not on paper with the President’s signature and stamp on it, but it came from him just the same.”

Accused of homophobia, Onfray answers:

“This is a very simplistic interpretation. Let us assume that Macron was in the company of a man with his wife, both making the same gesture with their fingers. That would not change a single word of what I wrote in my letter to the President. I regret nothing and if it has to be redone, I’ll do it without hesitation!”

The writer is a journalist based in Paris

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2018